Planning a Trip to Victoria and Vancouver Island
This page is designed to help those first time individual visitors or those planning to bring a group to see Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia.
Most of the sightseeing companies take their customers to the following Victoria attractions:
A BC Ferry ride through some of the Gulf Islands en-route to Vancouver Island, the world famous Butchart Gardens, the scenic shoreline drive into Victoria, Downtown (including the inner harbour), the Fairmont Empress Hotel, the BC Parliament Buildings, Government Street Shops and historic Chinatown.
How A Day-Trip To Victoria By Bus Usually Works
Departing from Vancouver by tour coach, usually by 7:30 am, they head south on Hwy's 99 & 17 to the Tsawwassen (sa-wass-en) BC Ferry Terminal in Delta BC. Buses must arrive at least 30-minutes ahead of their scheduled ferry sailing. The ships sail every hour from about the start of June to about mid-September, starting at 6 am to 10 pm, from both the Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay terminals. From about mid-September to the start of June, the ships sail every 2nd hour from 7 am to 9 pm. Extra sailings are scheduled on long-holiday weekends. Double check this with BC Ferries.
The bus, with the passengers on board, drives right onto the ship, then passengers go up to various decks which have food services, a gift shop, washrooms and sitting areas both inside and outside. The crossing time between the mainland and Vancouver Island, and visa versa, is about 1 hour and 35 minutes. The distance traveled is about 25-miles or 40 kms.
The ferries do not actually arrive in Victoria, they arrive in Swartz Bay, about a 25-minute drive from Victoria. Once you arrive at Swartz Bay, some choose to go to Butchart Gardens first, then either take the shoreline drive tour into Victoria, or simply head straight downtown. Others choose to go straight to the scenic shoreline drive, then downtown, or right into downtown for free time, then to Butchart Gardens and onto Swartz Bay.
The minimum amount of time spent at Butchart Gardens from May to October should be 90-minutes to two-hours. There are food services, washrooms and a gift shop on the 55-acre site.
Once downtown, the passengers usually have about 2-hours of free time, sometimes more, depending on the return ferry reservation. Downtown Victoria and the harbour is considerably smaller than downtown Vancouver, but it's very charming with it's 'olde England' feeling.
Flying One Way? Or Both Ways?
Some people choose to fly, via float plane or helicopter, from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria (harbour to harbour), and back. Once in downtown Victoria you can pick up a local 90-minute sightseeing tour, or a taxi or shuttle bus to Butchart Gardens, which is located in Brentwood Bay. Many of the Vancouver sightseeing companies offer the tour bus ride to Victoria, via the ferry and then to Butchart Gardens and onto downtown Victoria; then fly back to Vancouver harbour. The float planes or helicopter flying time is about 30-minutes.
Some tour bus operators, hotels and float plane / helicopter companies offer overnight hotel packages. Stay one or two nights, then return to Vancouver.
Driving Times (Approximate)
- Downtown Vancouver to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal - allow at least 1 hour of travel time as the traffic on weekdays can be very busy. A few minutes less on weekends
- Swartz Bay Terminal straight into downtown Victoria (via Hwy 17 and Blanchard Street) - 30 minutes
- Swartz Bay Terminal straight to the Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay - 30 minutes
- Butchart Gardens straight into downtown Victoria - 30 minutes
- Butchart Gardens to downtown Victoria (via the scenic shoreline drive) - 1 hour 15 minutes
- Downtown Victoria straight to the Swartz Bay Terminal - allow 1 hour; you must arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled ferry sailing
- Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal to downtown Vancouver - 45 minutes
Going To Seattle Then To Vancouver And Victoria BC?
If you are starting your Pacific Northwest journey in Seattle Washington, then planning to come to Vancouver - and then go to Victoria, you could actually head to Victoria first, out of downtown Seattle on the passenger-only 'Victoria Clipper'. Travel time is about 2 hours. There are also ferries out of Port Angeles and Anacortes Washington, which either head into downtown Victoria or close to it - at Sidney BC. The sailing times are about 90 minutes.
The ferry out of Port Angeles, on the MV Coho, is run by Black Ball Transport. The ferry out of Anacortes is run by the Washington State Ferries.
If your group is already in Seattle with your own tour bus, you could still put your passengers on the Victoria Clipper, arrange for a local tour bus to the Butchart Gardens, then drop your passengers at the Swartz Bay BC Ferry Terminal. Everyone could then walk on - and off - as foot passengers, and at Tsawwassen pick-up your own tour bus. This would save the cost of putting your bus on two-ferry sailings.
Wilson's Transportation offers downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria service, via BC Ferries, on almost every sailing, year-round. Also, there is regular local transit service from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria. Visit either TransLink.ca, for Metro Vancouver or BCTransit.ca for Victoria.
- Tourism Victoria - tourismvictoria.com
- BC Ferries - bcferries.com
- Butchart Gardens - butchartgardens.com
- Harbour Air Seaplanes - harbourair.com
- Helijet - helijet.com
- Victoria Clipper - victoriaclipper.com
- Wilson's Transportation - wilsonstransportation.com
- Royal BC Museum - royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
- Prince of Whales Whale Watching - PrinceofWhales.com
- Craigdarroch Castle - thecastle.ca
- IMAX - imaxvictoria.com
- Emily Carr House - emilycarr.com
- Butterfly Gardens - butterflygardens.com
- Undersea Gardens - pacificunderseagardens.com
- Chemainus Murals - muraltown.com
- Black Ball Ferry - ferrytovictoria.com
- Washington State Ferries - wsdot.wa.gov/ferries